Wizard or form?

September 22, 2011

Wizards are good in the following scenarios:

  • presenting a fixed workflow in a prescribed sequence—This can be particularly beneficial if you need to verify or validate prerequisite conditions before asking a user to commit to a lot of data input.
  • breaking up a long or complex workflow into manageable tasks—
    Wizards are effective in reducing the seeming complexity of a task or providing a sense of progress—for example, when filling in a tax form or performing a large number of setups during an initial system configuration.
  • where later information is contingent upon what data a user has already provided—Wizards can keep user interfaces from sounding like the logic portion of an SAT test. If you answered Yes to question 7, provide your OS version here; otherwise skip to question 9.

Forms are good in the following scenarios:

  • presenting a comprehensive list of what information a user must provide—Forms are effective in communicating to users what questions you’re going to ask, letting users gather whatever information they lack before starting a task. A wizard that asks for information on the very last screen that sends a user off on a scavenger hunt can be an awkward and frustrating user experience. It can also add to code complexity by requiring the system to track incomplete states.
  • making it easy to navigate among data-entry fields by pressing Tab—
    Power users can provide information efficiently and navigate to fields of interest without removing their fingers from the home position on their keyboard. This can be a significant consideration if users fill in a given form many times during the day.
  • reducing the number of hits on a server—that is, serving up an entire form after only one call—Performance is often a challenge for Web-based applications. Users can quickly lose patience when there are performance lags while a wizard makes background trips to the application server or database.

From Mike Hughes: Wizards Versus Forms

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